3 minute readMilitary Support

A Reflection on Today

This post was originally published to Desert Sojourner, a blog by American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces worker Katheryn Wolfe.
I’ve always had nostalgic perceptions of Red Cross women that served in past wars (the old days of WWI & II.) I imagine that the coffee they served seemed as sweet to soldiers as finding hidden treasure; when shaving cream and bubble gum and the sound of music coming from a record were little luxuries only afforded on occasion.
Fast forward more than half a century later, to the battlefield of today. Like everything else, war fighting and all that it encompasses, has been touched by modern technology.  And now, the Red Cross is one among many “distracters” in theater. The biggest challenger? The power of internet, which provides instant movies, music and the ability to chat with your family, all within the confines of your room if the signal is strong enough! To add to it, there is a plethora of MWR activities, internet cafes, gyms, and sometimes even movie theaters, all vying for service member’s off-duty time.
And so the question beckons…are we really that needed? My initial opinion to this question has certainly been influenced during the course of four months. I think perhaps, I have proved myself wrong.
The success or failure of the Red Cross lies in the ability of its staff and volunteers, to not merely meet the physical needs of those who call to it for help, but its ability to connect with those we serve through consistent and genuine acts of compassion.
General Dwight Eisenhower reflected this idea many years ago when he said,

“The Red Cross, with its clubs for recreation, its coffee and doughnuts in the forward areas, its readiness to meet the needs of the well and help minister to the wounded-even more important, the devotion and warmhearted sympathy of the Red Cross Girl! The Red Cross has often seemed to be thefriendly hand of this nation, reaching across the sea to sustain its fighting men.”

Red Cross services have and will continue to adapt to the needs of the American soldier, but at its heart like Eisenhower said should an unsurpassable compassion. That is what will define our legacy.
In the first few days after returning home from Iraq, I found my mind wandering back to those individuals I had left behind, and even to those whom had returned before me to their own little corner of the world. It is perhaps in these reflections where I found an answer to my question.
For four months, we met needs through messaging and phone cards, shampoo and hot chocolate.  But even more meaningful was establishing a sense of community through interactions much like those you would have with a friend or a neighbor back in the states. Perhaps it is in these simple interactions that our sense of purpose is to be found.
It’s knowing that White liked M&Ms and Hall liked dots; and having them in the candy bowl when they came to the office. Or reserving the legacy room for our office regulars. Snapping pictures of new dads, and being excited for them. Spending Sunday mornings playing tennis with med staff, hopefully sharpening my skills enough to finally win a match against my dad. Getting myself up out of bed to go to spin class with Eddie and his unit. Using our GMC van to give our loyal volunteers a ride home in the middle of the night. Sorting the good, bad, and frankly unappetizing Halloween candy with Peterson.  Nightly conversations and laughter courtesy of the DFAC staff, Polcyn, Christian, Elvi, King and Palmer. Eating country fried dog and grilled cheese with Wright in the dining hall. Learning about families back at home, reminiscing with everyone about what they would be doing after deployment.
It wasn’t just about us giving. An overwhelming number of individuals also had a heart to serve us! It has many times been said that the heart of this organization lies in its volunteers; that’s true even in the farthest desert. Inniss our master overseer of the internet café and Vasquez who kept us well informed about all the base events. Our burn bin and electronic guru Art, and Ramsey the master behind our newly painted signs in the office.  Eddie our go-to for all the office decorations and for birthday days. Skean for the bags and bags of chicken that he grilled to perfection. King teaching me how to play chess. And for the many other volunteers who brought their talents, energy and even their famous marinade recipes, to our office…
…to our community.